London’s market gardens: the Neat Houses

Today, Pimlico is a bustling , diverse and densely-populated part of London. It occupies the north bank of the Thames between Vauxhall Bridge and Chelsea Bridge and is perhaps best known for its handsome white stucco buildings, part of Thomas Cubitt’s distinctive development of the area in early 19th century.

Cubitt’s building plan for Pimlico was implemented in 1820s, and radically changed the nature of this area of London. Before his famous residential terraces were built, much of the land had been dedicated to the growing industry and Pimlico was famous as the home of the Neat House Gardens.

This extract from a map of 1812 shows the site of Neat House Gardens

This extract from a map of 1812 shows the site of Neat House Gardens

In the 17th and 18th centuries, market gardens surrounded London and provided the fruit and vegetables on which the city’s inhabitants thrived. The Neat House Gardens were named after the Manor of Neyte and occupied approximately 100 acres, with cauliflowers, asparagus, artichokes, spinach, radishes and melons featuring among its produce. The land was ideal for gardening as it was low-lying with a high water table. Pasture was not far away, so there was also easy access to large quantities of manure.

Horwood's map of late 18th century London shows the ornamental layout of Pimlico's market gardens

Horwood’s map of late 18th century London shows the ornamental layout of Pimlico’s market gardens

Alehouses cropped up all around the gardens, and Neat Houses became known as a place of recreation and revelry. Many people travelled from the city to the many tea gardens in the area, and among them was one Samuel Pepys:

After the play, we into the house, and spoke with Knipp, who went abroad with us by coach to the Neat Houses in the way to Chelsy; and there, in a box in a tree, we sat and sang, and talked and eat; my wife out of humour, as she always is, when this woman is by.

Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1August 1667

The Monster Tavern was one of the many tea gardens and ale houses nearby Neat House Gardens. This watercolour shows the tavern circa 1820.

The Monster Tavern was one of the many tea gardens and ale houses nearby Neat House Gardens. This watercolour shows the tavern circa 1820.

Henry Wise, Royal Gardener to Queen Anne and designer of Kensington Gardens had gardens at Neat Houses, but many of the gardeners were tenants who farmed just a small patch of land.

This section from an estate map of 1725 shows Mr Wise's Estate next to the Bailiwick of Neat. Much of the rest of the land was divided into small tenancies.

This section from an estate map of 1725 shows Mr Wise’s Estate next to the Bailiwick of Neat. Much of the land was divided into small tenancies.

At the turn of the 19th Century the population of London was expanding rapidly and there was increasing pressure on the gardeners to give up their land to prospective builders. John Johnson bought the lease for much of the land in Pimlico in 1817 but found his proposals constantly thwarted by the gardeners. In 1825 Johnson gave up his battle against the gardeners, but threat to Neat Houses remained as real as ever as he sold his interest in the land to Thomas Cubitt.

By 1827 the urban sprawl surrounded Neat House Gardens. It wouldn’t be long until these too would fall victim to the city’s expansion.

By 1827 the urban sprawl surrounded Neat House Gardens. It wouldn’t be long until these too would fall victim to the city’s expansion.

The writing was on the wall for the Gardens and it was now only a matter of time before roads and large-scale building works would change the character of Pimlico entirely. Today nothing remains of The Neat House Gardens, but if you come along to Westminster Archives Centre you can relive their glory days through our collections of books, maps and prints.

[Jo]

To fatten chickens in 4 days

Today’s extract adds to the growing body of evidence the our unknown ladies of the Cookbook kept some of their own animals, perhaps on a small farm. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily had a purely rural existence: they well have lived within a short walk of the bustling markets of London. The 18th century city petered out into fields just a few blocks north of Oxford Street, and you didn’t need to go far west of where Westminster Archives stands today to find yourself in acre upon acre of common land and market gardens. Bowles’ map of 1775 shows St Ann’s Street right on the edge of London’s urban development.

Today’s recipe is the strongest indication yet that our unknown ladies kept chickens. And there’s nothing sentimental about our ladies’ attitude: these are no fluffy farmyard pets, but livestock being raised for their eggs and meat. Here we learn an 18th century method for fattening up chickens, presumably for the pot:

The first part of the recipe doesn't sound too bad...

The first part of the recipe doesn’t sound too bad…

...but the idea of 'cramming' the paste rolls down chickens' throats - or 'sticking them behind' - is less appealing

…but it soon becomes less appealing when we’re instructed to ‘cram’ the paste rolls down the chickens’ throats – or ‘stick them behind’.

To Fatten Chickens in 4 Days

Take a pint of wheat, a pint of flower and a qr of a pd of brown sugar. Wet it with warm new milk into a paste. Make them into small rolls & cram down thier throats. Ye last two days, Stick ym behind.

It doesn’t sound like much fun for the chickens. So if you’re thinking of keeping chickens, best refer to modern government guidelines rather than the hints and tips of our unknown ladies!

The lavender of London

Last weekend, the Carshalton Lavender fields opened up to the public for their annual harvest fair. Visitors were free to explore three acres of fragrant purple flowers – an unlikely floral haven in the middle of a London borough.

Carshalton's community lavender field in July 2013

Carshalton’s community lavender field in July 2013

The lavender field is at the centre of a community-led project with an impressive vision: to revive the lavender industry in the south-west reaches of Greater London.

Up until the First World War, Mitcham, Sutton and Waddon were host to acre upon acre of blue lavender: a flourishing industry that had grown up from the beginning of the 18th century. The flowers were destined for a variety of uses. Some were cut, dried and sold on the streets of London, while others were sent to the distilleries for the fragrant oil to be extracted.

A lavender seller from William Marshall Craig's prints of 'Itinerant Traders'

A lavender seller at Temple Bar in the early 19th century

In the Victorian era, the Mitcham area became important supplier for cosmetic companies such as Yardley’s. But the flower was also historically prized for its medicinal properties.

Today’s recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies is for ‘compound spirit lavender’, a powerful infusion of fresh lavender flowers, brandy and spices. Our unknown ladies don’t indicate what the concoction was to be used for, but lavender was commonly thought to aid recovery from fainting and dizziness. Some even believed that it could help to cure infertility.

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

18th century method for making compound spirit lavender

To Make Compound Spirit Lavender

Take a quart of lavender flowers, pickd from the stalks, & put them into a q[uar]t of brandy. Cork them close. Put half a pint of brandy into another bottle with the size of two large nutmegs of ginger, a quarter of an ounce of mace bruised, a drachm of cochineal, half a quarter of an ounce of saffron & a quarter of an ounce of cloves, all beaten togather. Let them stand a month or more, then filter them off. Mix them & you may put a little fresh brandy into the bottles to extract the virtue.

As with all the medicinal recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies we’d advise you not to try this at home! But if you’d like to experience a bit of London’s lavender heritage, do take a trip over to Sutton.  Carshalton Lavender will be closed until next year’s harvest, but commercial field Mayfield Lavender will be welcoming visitors until late September…

There’s also a great article on the history of local lavender production on the Sutton Council website. Enjoy!